Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit to Improve Productivity


Many leaders are looking for the “big” program that will change the game.  They agonize over large scale change efforts, ways to reduce costs, and how to increase innovation within the firm.

What if the answer wasn’t identifying one large project but instead was small issues that employees already knew about?  If the employees had the courage and the power to act on them, what would happen?

It’s the same in business as it is in life.  The little things matter.  Add up the small changes and the daily disciplines and you have mapped the road to success.

 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein

 

Jeremy Eden and Terri Long are the Co-CEOs of Harvest Earnings, an advisory services firm. They have helped companies like Heinz, PNC Financial, Standard Register and The Schwan Food Company, Energy East, Webster Financial, and Standard Register to reduce costs and increase revenues. I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about their new book, Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits. 

This is one of the most practical and immediately actionable guides for business leaders that I have ever seen.

 

Embracing Change

 

You have listed numerous ways to make an organization more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.  When you consult with an organization, do managers readily embrace your ideas or do they resist?Low-Hanging Fruit

If we said to our clients’ employees, “Folks, here are 77 new behaviors you need to do now,” there would be mutiny!  So instead we build in the most important behaviors into a process that we provide called Idea Harvest™.  Most managers do readily embrace the process because they see that it is a way for them to get their ideas not only a hearing but a decision as well.  By going through an Idea Harvest™ managers just naturally adopt our ideas without anyone having to learn or accept 77 ways of behaving.  One of the most loved new behaviors is to use simple one-page summaries for most ideas and to stop creating big presentations.  Since most decisions in an Idea Harvest are simple (“low-hanging fruit”), no lives need to be wasted on creating elaborate PowerPoints.

 

“PowerPoint has consumed the best years of too many young lives.” -David Silverman

 

Another example is that an Idea Harvest uses many short deadlines.  Deadlines focus everyone on important activities and give them permission to ignore unimportant ones that might otherwise waste their time.  Some embrace this new behavior immediately because they see that it also means decisions will be made quickly.  Others don’t see how they can meet the short deadlines until they see how efficiently they can work following some of the other rules … which is a perfect segue to the next question!

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Know When Good Enough is Enough

I love the concept of “gold plating.”  Would you explain it and give an example?

Gold plating, also known as “paving the cow paths” is an effort to make something better that is already good enough … and more specifically, spending time making that thing better does not grow profits.  The most prevalent example is the one we describe in Chapter 77 “Mom Should Have Said, Don’t Always Do Your Best.” Managers spend an incredible amount of time perfecting PowerPoints, memos, and emails when “good enough” would have saved time that could be spent on truly important activities.  Many bosses inadvertently encourage this behavior by pointing out meaningless typos or formatting issues in internal memos.  We worked with one client where the employees laughed when we said the senior team would review a one-page summary of their ideas.  They needed to hear directly from the CEO that he didn’t want a full blown presentation for every idea they were going to discuss!  We worked with another where the word went out to reprint hundreds of pages of team reports in bigger font after the CEO made an off-hand comment that the type size was small – luckily the CEO caught wind of this and told everyone he preferred using his reading glasses to wasting time and money!  One engineering department was designing equipment that would last 75 years even though with new technology that standard no longer made sense. “Gold plating” occurs in every large company and is seen as virtuous instead of the resource stealer that it is!

 

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” -W. Edwards Deming

 

You talk about “embracing conflict” and that can require some serious culture change inside an organization.  How do you change the culture to accept healthy conflict?

Managers bemoan how hard it is to change a culture, but we have seen it happen practically overnight.  Think how quickly a culture can change when a company is bought and merged.  The top dog has culture change within his or her power (but like Dorothy who didn’t know she only needed to click her heels three times, they often don’t know it.)  Company executives who want their teams to embrace conflict must embrace it themselves.  Is there a decision that has lingered because two factions can’t agree on the right course of action?  Executives should adopt the mantra that “everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts” (courtesy of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan).

 

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.” -Warren Buffett

 

In practice, this means demanding facts before entertaining debate and discussion.  By making sure that everyone agrees on the facts, many conflicts will  be resolved.  In one company, the business line wanted a 24-hour call center because they “knew” that good customers called at all hours while the call center “knew” that staying open overnight was not worth it.  Together, they devised a simple data collection plan and determined that few good customers used the call center late at night.  Again working together, they found a way to form a skeletal staff to take care of the customers with 3am needs.  With common facts, a decade old conflict evaporated.  With facts, conflicts also lose much of their political edge that can turn decisions into power struggles.

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One additional simple change can make a huge difference:  Get everyone involved in a decision in the room at the same time.  No serial meetings with differing points of view that the boss is left to figure out.  Ask the conflicting parties to present a single point of view on the issue and 95% of the time they will do it.

 

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” -Peter Drucker

 

Making Meetings Effective

How do you make meetings more effective, less time consuming, and more impactful?

3 Toxic Habits That Will Cripple Your Productivity

Thai Nguyen is a professional chef, international athlete, writer, and speaker. He is passionate about sparking personal revolutions in others.

More often than not, productivity is synonymous with success. The more quality content you are able to produce, the higher your conversion rate will be. Even talent is no match for productivity. The ever-entertaining Will Smith, with his numerous successes covering television, music, and cinema, was quick to respond when asked what his key to success was:

“I’ve never really viewed myself as talented, where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. When the other guy is sleeping, I’m working. When the other guy is eating, I’m working.”

It is a sentiment echoed by many great figures: If you just keep showing up and doing the work, results will come. When considering what stands against being productive, the usual suspects are procrastination, distraction, lack of self-discipline, and lack of willpower. However, there are three toxic habits that eat these culprits for breakfast:

1. Perfectionism

Striving to be perfect is not a bad thing. As long as you see perfection as the ideal and not the real. The reality is that everything can be improved. That is why you see new iPhones and iPads continually being churned out. That is why records are continually broken in every sport. Perfection is a unicorn that keeps running away.

 

Contentment is the enemy of improvement. -Thai Nguyen

 

Perfection cripples productivity when you spend far too much time working on the product rather than getting it out there. The inevitable question of, “What is the ideal amount of time?” is indeed a tricky one. The resolution is to be clear about your desired outcome as you are working on the project. What is it that you want your customers to experience once they are exposed to your product? If you are able to meet that level of expectation, then you have done your job. If you are able to exceed it, even better. But do not try to go beyond that and revolutionize the world. Not yet, anyway. That will happen when you least expect it.

2. Contentment

Being happy with your current state of being, your achievements and quality of relationships, is certainly a desirable goal—as long as it has a “best by” date on it. Contentment is the enemy of improvement. It is what keeps good from becoming great. You should always be seeking to set the bar higher and improving in all aspects of life. Snow is beautiful until you have to live with it daily.

 

Talent is no match for productivity. -Thai Nguyen

 

You are probably screaming, “What on earth is wrong with being happy with a situation?” That adage, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” may be ringing in your head right now. The reason contentment should only be a spring break is because change is inevitable. Everything is temporal. Change is the very fabric of the universe, and as much as you may strive to stay stationary, the tide will move you. We grow older, and we mature; technology continues to make groundbreaking changes; culture and society will ebb and flow. Thus, change and improvement, not contentment, goes hand in hand with personal development and productivity.

Interview with Bestselling Author David Baldacci


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A Master Storyteller

With over 110 million books in print, David Baldacci is one of the world’s favorite storytellers.  He is a writing productivity machine, churning out bestsellers almost as fast as his fans can read them.  He and his wife founded Wish You Well Foundation, an organization dedicated to literacy efforts.

No matter your profession, I believe listening to David’s story will inspire you and give you ideas to help your own career.

In this video interview, David and I discuss:

  • How he maintains such productivity.  He has never missed a deadline, and Fast Company labeled him one of the “most productive people.”
  • David’s advice for aspiring authors.TheFinisher
  • The real story behind his overnight success.  His first published novel was Absolute Power, which immediately became a bestseller and a major motion picture starring Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood.
  • His newest book, released today: The Finisher.  Learn why David submitted the manuscript under a pseudonym, hiding his bestselling author credentials.
  • His passion for literacy and libraries.

Take a few minutes and learn from a master storyteller. His advice has the potential to improve your own story.

 

10 Email Productivity Myths

Like you, I receive my share of email.  I have multiple email accounts.  It is especially difficult to manage as I travel the globe, working across time zones.

Over the years, I have heard my share of advice about email.  I call them “email productivity myths” because they are widely shared in leadership and productivity classes.  The problem is that some are not true.  Others work for some but not all.

Here are a few:

1. Email is one of the biggest time wasters.

 

Why:  This is one I hear all the time.  It seems a given that everyone sees it as a nuisance, as a time waster, as taking too much time.

Why it’s a myth:  More often, email is saving time. It allows quick communication with people all over the world. What takes a few minutes to write and to read would have required scheduling a conference call, preparing, and having an unneeded long conversation.  How to use email properly is an important skill, but don’t fall into the false belief that all email is a waste of your day.

 

2. Never reply all because you are filling up everyone’s email box unnecessarily.

 

Why: Carelessly hitting reply all adds an email to everyone’s inbox.

Why to do it: There are times when replying all is important. You are sending a message where everyone needs to stay in the conversation.  The important reminder is to think about where it is going.

 

3. Don’t respond.

 

Why: Say you receive an email sent to a few people, and you have an opinion and decide not to respond.

Why you may need to respond:  Depending on the culture of your organization, silence may be read to equal agreement.  If you have a point of view, you may need to share it either via email or in-person.

 

4. Use the blind cc: feature to copy people.

 

Why:  You are using the blind carbon copy to let someone know you are handling a situation, but you don’t want the receiver to know.

Why you should rarely, if ever use it:  It feels slimy.  It’s like you are hearing a one-sided conversation, and don’t get to hear the response.  If you receive a blind cc, you have to keep track of what you are supposed to know, and what you aren’t. Worst of all, we have all seen someone who was blind carbon copied respond, embarrassing the sender.

Don’t Let a Pocket Veto Destroy Your Meeting

Image courtesy of istockphoto/burwellphotgraphy

Have you ever heard of a pocket veto?

It’s when Congress passes a bill, but the president does not sign it within ten days after Congress adjourns.  Effectively, it means that the bill is dead.  After all the committee meetings, the bill is passed in the House of Representatives and then the Senate, but the bill does not become law.

The president can sign bills into law or he can veto them.  He can also use the political maneuver of a pocket veto and do nothing.

My version of a pocket veto is different.  It happens in organizations.